Film, panelists address reproductive justice
Warren Hern has to sleep with a rifle to feel safe.
He is a late-term abortion doctor, the subject of “After Tiller,” a film that sparked a discussion about reproductive rights and health among health care professionals at the University.
Rutgers Health Services-Health Outreach, Promotion and Education and RU Choice sponsored “After Tiller,” which was held yesterday at the Douglass Campus Center.
“After Tiller,” the second of three programs in the Everybody Tells A Story Series, focuses on the dangers of abortion from the perspective of the practitioners, who often become targets for anti-abortion vigilantes.
George Tiller’s story sets the stage for the film. In 2009, anti-abortion extremists killed Tiller, who performed third trimester abortions in Kansas. Through the opening credits, the audience hears the frantic emergency call describing Tiller’s shooting death in a church.
In the film, Hern said late-term abortion doctors often receive death threats.
The film features many women who are experiencing severe complications with their pregnancies. They come to abortion offices seeking help, leading doctors to administer emotional therapy for their grave situations.
Warren Hern is one such doctor. Based in Boulder, Colo., he originally worked in delivery, but changed professions after seeing the terrible condition of women who are at a loss in their late pregnancies, some often resorting to illegal means and suffering consequences as extreme as death. Some of these women are victims of rape.
According to the film, the appropriate time for a fetal abortion has long been a source of controversy. Scientific data is still inconclusive as to if and when a fetus can experience pain.
Critics argue the late-term abortion process is euthanasia, as the women essentially go through labor and deliver a stillborn infant. According to the doctors interviewed throughout the film, the procedure is designed to maintain the integrity of a woman’s reproductive system.
If a pregnancy is too far past 28 weeks, the doctors will not perform the procedure. Potential clients go through a long screening process to ensure that the procedure is necessary and that there are no other viable options for the woman.
The film depicts in-person interviews to show how traumatic it is for women to make what is likely the hardest decision of their lives. But it also explores the burden placed upon these doctors and their staff in comforting and counseling the women.
The responsibility to ensure safe practice in these clinics often results in doctors experiencing a great deal of emotion and pain, whether or not they decide to carry out the procedure.
Deborah Johnson, one of the panelists speaking after the showing, is a family practice doctor who personally knew Barnett Slepian, an abortion practitioner who was shot and killed by a violent abortion oppositionist in New York.
Johnson said Tiller, who she met earlier in her career, influenced her with his determination to help women in these difficult situations. Tiller would often tell others to trust women and respect their decisions.
She said his work was not in the manner of a crusader, but rather one of necessity.
Lauren Rankin, another panelist, is a pro-choice freelance writer and women’s rights activist. She volunteers as a clinic escort, a person who volunteers at an abortion clinic to help guide patients and staff into and out of the building and protect them from anti-abortion activists.
“[It’s been] a real experience in compassion and evil,” she said.
Opponents often use shame to deter women from making the safest choice, she said.
She said the issue was more “gray” than black-and-white, with complicated nuances to every woman’s situation.
Marina Ibrahim, a School of Arts and Sciences senior, said she has always supported abortion because she believes it is a woman’s choice. The film helped bolster her views.
“It’s sad that we are in 2014 and people are still arguing whether abortion should be legalized or not,” she said. “Some women are raped and some have babies that have terrible medical conditions, so who do you think should decide whether or not she has the baby?”
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